Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Media magnates pour into Sun Valley

Tuesday kicks off the annual Allen & Co. conference


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Walt Disney Co. President and CEO Bob Iger greets the press after arriving at the Sun Valley Lodge on Tuesday. Iger and about 300 other media and technology moguls are attending the annual Allen & Co. conference at the resort. Photo by Willy Cook

Photographers and video crews stand to the side of the Sun Valley Lodge porte-cochere on Tuesday, anxiously peering into the windshield of a Lexus SUV pulling under the shaded overhang.

It's nobody.

They lower their lenses and sit back down, waiting for the next car. They won't be off their feet long. A steady stream of cars has continually flowed through all day. And the journalists have locked their sights on every passenger, hoping to catch someone of interest: Microsoft Chair Bill Gates, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch or Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet.

It's 1 p.m. But no one yet.

But these media/tech moguls—and about 300 others—are all due to arrive at some point for the 28th annual Allen & Co. conference. The five-day event is hosted by the secretive New York City investment firm at Sun Valley Resort.

Allen & Co. doesn't formally announce the conference's start date, but anyone in the know knew it was Tuesday.

A Toyota SUV rolls up and a man in average attire steps out—blue jeans and blue plaid shirt, with a face not recognizable to the common American. But the cameraman for business television channel CNBC rushes over, instantly realizing it's Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger.

A reporter asks him if he has the answer to the "big question."

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The question facing Iger and Disney is whether the company will sell ABC, something that has been speculated about recently but Disney has denied.

If a deal does happen, it's possible Sun Valley Resort may be its birthing place. The conference, bringing together industry leaders, is renowned for spawning huge media deals.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner reportedly first discussed Disney's 1996 purchase of Capitol Cities/ABC while driving around Sun Valley.

But Iger didn't allude to an answer while standing under the porte-cochere.

"I'm not going to answer the big question," he said. "I'm here to enjoy the conference."

Iger and many of the media magnates do revel in the setting of Sun Valley, according to conference Executive Director Mandy Tavakol. She's been doing this for eight years.

Tavakol said she has talked with some of the conference's participants, and they're already picking the trails they want to go on, making certain they hike or bike areas they missed last year.

She said most of the guests have arrived but declined to say how many are expected. She said it's about the same number as usual.

And many of the business leaders usually bring their families. With that, Tavakol said, comes one rule for the journalists hoping to catch a glimpse: Don't interview or photograph the children.

Tavakol said journalists have always respected this one rule.

But they're not shy about approaching Iger and his peers. After all, they're hunting for murmurs of the next big business deal.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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